Red Square is synonymous not just with Moscow, but with Russia itself. Located at the heart of the Russian capital, Red Square (or “krasnaya ploschad” // “Красная площадь”) is a massive square filled with some of the most noteworthy attractions in the country.
Red Square is an enigma. You could easily spend several days here, just exploring what Red Square has to offer. First and foremost, it is a large cobblestone, pedestrianized square. It has been a hub for merchants and trade since the 1500s. Throughout the centuries, it has remained as a focal point in the city for its attractions and close proximity to the center of power, the Kremlin. During the Soviet era, it gained prominence for huge military parades. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. Today, Red Square hosts large events, concerts, and parties.
Many of the top attractions in Moscow are located either on or nearby Red Square. If you’re headed to Red Square, here’s what you can’t miss.
The Kremlin in Moscow is the center of politics for all of Russia. It is the official residence of the Russian President (Vladimir Putin), and the home of tsars and communist leaders before him. You’ll see the towers and walls of the Kremlin on Red Square, and it’s one of the major sites you absolutely must see in Moscow.
There are two separate tourist tickets available, one for the Armoury, and one for the Cathedral Complex. There are separate queues to buy tickets for the Armoury, which can be quite long. I recommend getting tickets for both the Armoury and the Cathedrals. They are most certainly worth the money.
The Armoury museum has a huge collection of priceless imperial and state objects. From Faberge eggs, to Catherine the Great’s coronation gown, royal carriages and sleighs, and military armor and weapons, it’s a wonder you can fit so much under one roof. Make sure to take audio guide included with your ticket, as you’ll learn so much more.
There are several important cathedrals in the Kremlin: the Assumption Cathedral, the Archangel Cathedral, and the Annunciation Cathedral are the top three in terms of importance. You can also see the Patriarch’s Palace, the Ivan the Terrible Bell Tower (which requires a separate ticket), and the giant Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon. If you want to visit both the Armoury and the Cathedrals, you’ll need most of a day.
You can visit the Alexander Gardens along the western wall of the Kremlin. Don’t miss the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well.
St. Basil’s Cathedral
St. Basil’s Cathedral is one of the most magnificent churches in the world. The colorful onion domes evoke the historic imagery of Red Square, and no visit to Red Square is complete without visiting it. The official name of the cathedral is the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed. It was built in 1561 on the orders of Tsar Ivan the Terrible to commemorate an important military victory. Inside the cathedral, you’ll find about 10 small chapels, with ornate altars and beautiful wall paintings. This is the symbol of Russia. Don’t miss it.
One side of Red Square is taken up nearly in its entirety by GUM (ГУМ), the fabulous shopping mall. GUM was built in 1893 and features a stunning glass roof. The department stores inside are generally outside the price ranges of tourists, yet it’s still worth a visit just to window shop. The fountain and floral decorations inside are quite popular. The exterior of the building is lit up at night.
Located next to the walls of the Kremlin is Lenin’s Mausoleum. Vladimir Lenin was the leader of the early Soviet Union, and died in 1924 when he was 53 years old. His body was then embalmed and preserved, and is open to the public on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10:00am-1:00pm. Creepy but cool, you can’t miss seeing waxy Lenin himself on a visit to Red Square. After visiting Lenin, you can see the graves of many other important communist leaders (like Stalin, Brezhnev, and more) buried along the walls of the Kremlin. While it’s free, be prepared for long lines, especially in summer.
State Historical Museum
This enormous red building is hard to miss on Red Square. It’s the State Historical Museum, which contains a vast collection of objects from pre-historic artifacts through the imperial tsars and the 20th-century. It tells the story of Russia over thousands of years, through objects from across the country. The building itself is an attraction, as it was built to house specific collections and has some superb decorations. The museum opened in 1894.
This small church is tucked away in the corner of Red Square between the State Historical Museum and GUM. It was founded in 1636, but the original was demolished during the Soviet era. Today’s church was built in 1993. The cathedral may be small, but that just lends more to the atmospheric peace and stillness. It’s free to visit.
Red Square evokes centuries of Russian history. I’d set aside two full days to see all of the attractions on this list. I also recommend visiting at night at least once, especially if you can catch a sunset! No visit to Moscow is complete without a trip or two to Red Square.
Have you been to Red Square? What were your impressions?